What it Means to Be an Artist

I cannot smear the rock—
jaundiced as I am with
curious beliefs.

My impudence
keeps water in high places.

Marry the intransigence!
Make it peak around the stacked cans
like a hungry dog.

What the Forest Knows

from squirrel carcass
to goshawk turd and back
is like a priest shivering in an empty room

the forest knows more than I ever shall
but it is better to go to town
as a tender ball of bones
than to go alone

Book Review: Soft Science by Franny Choi

I was prepared to hate it / well, hate is a strong word /
let’s just say give it wings and let it sail past the bridge
/ but it doesn’t suck / it doesn’t pretend to get on its knees
and make the rafters sing / it is a red owl on a bicycle with hungry eyes /

   “Who isn’t bruised around the edges, peaches poured
   into the truck bed, receipts faded to white?”

it sends out science mannikins to shout about being nervous in secret /
it collaborates with machines to make rain squalls / it argues for
a better kind of blindness / it warns others about dreaming in stairwells
and at crime scenes / it is a crime scene painted in butterscotch broth /

   “The cop speaks and I call a plum into is his mouth
   and it doesn’t shut him up.

   The cop kneels in the grass below my friends, my friends
   crowned with August and Salt. My marigold my wave.”

tendrils and tips and sprockets combine to give it firm plant awareness /
“cyborg means man made” I didn’t know / it is like new sounds added
to frost in the stubble by the road / in a Wyoming winter snow drifts
come and go like grainy herds of buffalo / this book is like those herds
mated with seigniorage — the profit made from the minting of coins /
ducats in the pillow / francs thrown into the Seine / everything costs
what you are willing to throw away / this book is completely free
in that sense / it is madly lyrical  / and it doesn’t suck

Note: this review is for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. Soft Science
is forthcoming from Alice James books.

TNT and Waffles

On my way home from class suddenly
   I’m in deep sludge traffic—hey asshole
   your accelerator is the one on the right
   To my left a Redbox movie machine
   like a clown closet holding out things

Beside Starbucks a dentist vomiting in the street
   gives me a chance to sneak run a red light
   The check cashing place is out of 20s
   Who buys cars from a place named TNT Auto Sales

By the diesel generator & family friendly
   Food Mart Stop Here for Signal Sick Motors
   Porsche & Audi repairs & Let’s Dance
   Lotsa Luck cocktails & inflatables
   are northbound for least pressure wave building
   on the depressed grade under a locomotive
   on the overpass like a grandfather clock on it’s back

Classic Pianos and healthcare for everyone
   at the Kozy Hefeweizen Hotcake House
   open 24 hours and hazy as an 86

Jack is in the box by the veterinary hospital
   power parks are made by people you Lucky Devil
   Dry pavement with lights on cranes
   over blue water dark as a wheelchair

In front of me a rack of steel pipe makes the turn
   onto the freeway by the construction site sphincter
   Stationary / no way / One Way / Right Way / that way
   Wrong Way / okay okay that way

The American Cancer Society has no trucks
   Near the river a new blaze of office
   with granite fingers and a large pubic bone
   There is evidence for both God and Washman
   I smell popcorn
   At home a new Michael Dickman poem in the New Yorker
   like sympathetic pliers


“the main shutoff is where now?”

Frrrghrrrgh…GRRGHGH grrzzzZZGggg …frrgggGG….
upstairs SAWING ON PIPES he is

…..whanging on them to make them fit and decent
to hold shit…


uh…this how you want it?”

The Man Who Fished For Children

The girl’s body was stuck under a ledge at the bottom of a plunge pool where the river spun like some mad cyclone bent on boring to the center of the earth. His only tool a long grievous pole, his face set like he was born scowling, it took him a full day to get to her, tie the retrieval ropes and lever her out. The river, gorging on snow melt, fought him like he had no right to the body.

People stood on the rocks and watched, quiet as cormorants. He brought her up, laid her on a sand bar and told everyone to leave. Later, at the parking lot, people tried to offer him money to say thank you. He said no and tied the pole to the side of his truck.

Driving home on the backroads in a Ford 150 that used to be blue, he thought about the frozen knobs of her hands. Tossing in sleep that night,with a bone deep headache, he saw the outhouse at the Methodist church camp he attended when he was a kid. Putting his eye to the chink, a yolk of light coming out, then nothing.

Then his parent’s farm in Estacada. A Berkshire hog with bloodshot eyes standing in a field of stumps. Butchering day. A long skein of intestines. The head with its snout and hairy nostrils set aside for cheese. A steady drip of blood on the dirt. Dogs baying for scraps. Marshlights in the summer darkness.

Eye Motes

His eyes were like branches underwater.

One moment the money is soft, the next it is cyan.

The sea where I stopped and you went on.

Australia is like an angry helmeted man on his back.

Water drains from her daily bath. The sound of dog nails on the floor.

Bring the steeple indoors; make two smaller ones.

Covering the porch, a new reach of the Nooksack River.

A homeless woman by the post office with her monocle.

An iron garden table in the ocean.

On the horse’s forehead, a shillelagh.

I have been writing with such a small part of my mind. I poisoned the ants good.

Antidote for honesty: a necklace made of shoulder bones.

The die back in the garden won’t wait for Easter.

On my desk: a speaker cord like an orphan pig tail, a stapler, some old mints.

A volcano’s worm casting gave us freedom.

A kiss of blind tape where the two ends meet.